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DOD News Briefing with George Little and Capt. Kirby from the Pentagon

Presenters: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations Capt. John Kirby
December 21, 2011

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon.

            Q:  Good afternoon.

            MR. LITTLE:  This is likely to be John's and my last briefing of 2011.  So we extend our best wishes to all of you during the holiday season, and happy New Year.

            MR. LITTLE:  This has been, in many ways, a remarkable and historic year.  If you look back, you see Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, Operation Tomodachi and many other national security events.

            The men and women of the U.S. military and their families have done incredible work, have had many successes and of course have made sacrifices, and to them, especially, we say thank you.

            I'd be remiss if I didn't note that this year has also seen the demise of Osama bin Laden and the decline of al-Qaida, and the increased pressure on AQAP, to include the loss of Anwar al-Awlaki to that terrorist group.

            The secretary has recently said that we're now at a turning point; 2012 is likely to bring opportunities for the United States military and for all Americans.  We're seeing successful transition efforts in Afghanistan.  We're building a new relationship with Iraq. And 2012 is likely see increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

            Again, our men and women in uniform have performed in an outstanding manner.

            In closing I would like to say to my colleague that -- and you haven't noticed this, but I'm wearing a tie with anchors on it.

            CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY:  There you go.

            MR. LITTLE:  So -- (chuckles) -- happy holidays.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Go, Navy!

            MR. LITTLE:  (Chuckles.)

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Go, Navy!  Well-chosen.

            MR. LITTLE:  Thanks.

            Anything else, John, before we --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I don't know how I could top that eloquence.  I think we should just go right to questions.

            MR. LITTLE:  All right.  Very good.

            Lita.

            Q:  Just one housekeeping question:  Do you know if all of the -- or if 10,000 U.S. troops have come out of Afghanistan for this year yet?  And secondly -- that's probably just a yes or a no.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I don't know specifically what the final numbers here, but I can tell you that General Allen is confident that he's going to be able to meet the drawdown deadline by the end of this year.

            Q:  But you don't know that it's been met yet?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I do not know the specific number where we're at today, but we can see if we can get that for you.

            Q:  OK, and then secondly, I realize this is a criminal investigation, but Danny Chen's death -- is there anything you can say about this case, particularly about whether or not there may be some concerns that some of this hazing may have either been known about or -- and/or whether commanders did or did not take appropriate action as this was going on over a subsequent period of time?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Well, I think you can understand why we wouldn't be commenting on a case that's ongoing.  As you know, the charges were just announced today.  We need to let the military justice system work.

            Q:  Follow-up?

            Q:  As a follow-up to that, though -- but just to Lita's question, I mean, coming after the Marine who was hazed earlier in the year, who was also Asian-American, who also killed himself, there's been a lot of calls from some in the community that say the military really needs to do more to screen out, you know, racists or people with racist tendencies before they get to these remote bases overseas. Do you think the military needs to do a better job?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Well, look, any single case of hazing or inappropriate conduct to a fellow soldier, airman, Marine, sailor, Coast Guardsman is inappropriate and not acceptable.

            Zero is the right number.  We treat each other with dignity and respect.  That's what this uniform requires.  And when we don't, there's a justice system in place to deal with it.  And that's what -- that we're seeing here in the case of Private Chen.

            And again, I wouldn't want to get into any specifics on this.  I mean, we don't want to prejudice that system.  But hazing's not tolerated in the -- in the military.  If it's found and it's proven, it's dealt with.

            Q:  Can I address how you are going to prevent more incidents like hazing like this one or any --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, we -- this is -- and this is something inculcated in our culture from the moment you join the service.  When you raise your right hand, through all your basic training and -- in your first tours of duty, I mean, the -- these notions are bred into you in the military.  We treat each other with respect and dignity, or we go home.  That's it.  And I mean, the tolerance is absolutely zero.

            And the system itself, because it works and works well, is in fact a deterrent to future behavior, or at least we certainly hope it is.  But you know, it doesn't mean that there aren't still going to be miscreants out there who want to -- who want to test it and try it. And like I said, when it's found and it's proven, it's dealt with.

            Q:  But I guess it's dealt with, but it's dealt with after suicides.  So I guess the questions would be should something be done before it's getting to that level?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Well, our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to the family here.  We -- this is tragic, tragic incident.  And as I said, there are -- there are training mechanisms in place throughout the military, in all the services, whether you're an officer or an enlisted.  I mean, this is something that's bred into you when you -- when you -- when you come into the service.

            I've been doing this for 25 years, and I can't tell you the number of times that I've had to undergo the -- you know, that kind of training and awareness programs.  I mean, it's not like we don't pay attention to this.

            It's not like we haven't experienced this before and this is the first time and, you know, we're just waking up to it.  But it also -- you know, you're -- unfortunately, you're never going to be a hundred percent perfect with this.  And there's going to be those few who want to flaunt what the uniform stands for and what the regulations require and what the culture demands of us.  And like I said, when that happens, they're going to be dealt with.

            Q:  Were the charges brought because of the pressure from the community there?  The community came to visit the Pentagon last week. So was that because of the pressures of --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I don't know what prompted -- I mean, that -- this all inside the justice system and inside the command system out there in ISAF, I'd refer you to them for specifics on the -- how the charges were preferred.  I don't have that kind of detail.

            Q:  First of all, happy New Year and happy holidays to you all and my colleagues.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Thank you.

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you.

            Q:  And thank you for everything.

            My question is that as we enter the new year, how do you see Afghanistan as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan and now we are out of Iraq?  One, how the Afghanis are taking this, that U.S. is now out of Iraq and now they see that U.S. will be out by 2014?  And second, if you can update on U.S.-Pakistan relations in the next year and now if the routes  are open or not, because now Pakistan is really politically in chaos because president is back and nobody knows what's going on and what's the future.

            MR. LITTLE:  Well, when it comes to Iraq, as I said in my opener, we're committed to developing a long-term relationship with the Iraqis.  We've made that clear.  And we continue to build that.

            I would note that this was the most successful logistical drawdown in U.S. military history.  And General Austin and the men and women in uniform who carried that out deserve tremendous praise.

            When it comes to Afghanistan, we're working hard to define not just the near-term actions in terms of fighting the insurgency, but also what our long-term relationship will look like.  And we are committed to an enduring security relationship with the Afghans.  We have close dialogue at all levels.  Ambassador Crocker, General Allen are doing amazing work to interface with their Afghan counterparts.

            And our men and women in Afghanistan -- and we just were there with the secretary -- we saw that they are incredibly dedicated to their mission, which includes the transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans.  They're working very hard to do that, and we think they're having very good success.  We're looking at about half of the Afghan population now that's now living under Afghan security lead.  And that's very -- that's an important development.

            Just a final point on Afghanistan, and then I'll move to Pakistan.  2011 saw a much different fighting season than in many previous years.  The Taliban and other insurgents have been brought under increased pressure.  And that is a mark of progress in what we and the Afghans and our NATO partners are doing.  And we think that's an important trajectory to note.

            Finally, with respect to Pakistan, we know that this year has brought challenges with our Pakistani counterparts.  We know that the recent border incident created a challenge, too.  The goal, of course, is to work through these issues with the Pakistanis.  This is a complicated but essential relationship, and we're committed to a long- term relationship with the Pakistanis.

            We -- look, we face a lot of the same threats.  Terrorists threaten Americans, and terrorists threaten Pakistanis.

            And we are confident that we can get to a baseline in the relationship that allows us to move forward.  It's not always going to be easy, but we -- with a little bit of hard work, we think we can do it.

            Phil.

            Q:  Just quickly on -- first, on the Pakistan issue, the border incident report due out, I think, on Thursday or Friday, do you know if it's -- by Thursday or Friday -- do you know if it's already been completed?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  The -- it's -- what I can tell you is -- yeah, I think the due date was the 23rd to be completed.  We -- it -- our understanding is it's on track and is -- and is being staffed.  But I don't have anything more for you than that today.

            Q:  Will it be made public right away, or do you know if it'll be --

            MR. LITTLE:  We've made a commitment to share the findings with all of you.  We're not doing that this afternoon, but in the relatively near future we expect that to happen.

            Q:  (Off mic.)

            Q:  Are you getting any -- I'm sorry -- are you getting any positive --

            MR. LITTLE:  Yeah --

            Q:  Sorry -- on the -- on the blockade on supplies coming through Pakistan to Afghanistan, that's now been going on for some time.  And you said there hasn't -- that, you know, that hasn't affected operations.

            MR. LITTLE:  Right.

            Q:  And -- but could you go into a little bit more explanation as to what has been the practical effect?  And how long can you go before you have to take certain steps to mitigate it?  I know that the Northern Distribution Network we're all familiar with -- if you could just discuss a little more, because this has been going on quite some time.  And could you also offer us any indication of when you might think that -- if you've gotten any signal of when this might end, or is this something you have to -- it seems it's indefinite.

            MR. LITTLE:  I think that we're hopeful that the ground supply routes, the GLOCS, will open in the near future.  And I think the secretary recently expressed confidence that that would happen.

            The war effort does continue, and our troops are well-supplied in Afghanistan.  It would of course be helpful to have those ground supply routes reopened, but General Allen and his team, working with our partners, they have done incredible work to ensure that we have what we need to carry out our mission in Afghanistan.  Not going to get into specific time frames in terms of how long our supplies will last, but we have what we need and we have what we need for the near term.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  And the only thing I'd add to that is there -- General Allen, as all good commanders -- make sure that he has sufficient stockpiles on hand.  And he has -- and he had been prepared with stockpiles on hand.  There's been no appreciable impact to operations throughout Afghanistan as a result of this.

            And you know, there are other avenues for support.  You mentioned the Northern Distribution Network yourself.  There are -- you can shift to other -- to other arteries if you need to.  But I think for the most part, General Allen has been able to subsist and to sustain the war effort based on stockpiles that he had on hand.

            Q:  And one follow-up.  How does it affect the (costing ?) of the operations?  Obviously more expensive to be going --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  If you have to go through the Northern Distribution Network for any great length of time that -- well, actually, not even -- the -- when you shift over to the Northern Distribution Network, it's going to be a little bit more costly and it's also going to take a little bit longer.  But as I said, he's been largely able to subsist on what he had on hand.

            Q:  (Off mic.)  There's sort of an accepted truth that the Pakistani government can't close the lines for too long because of all of the powerful families and business interests that profit so greatly.

            I know it's a Pakistani political question, but you all track this closely. Have you noticed any building pressure from the business community on the Pakistani government to open those ground lines?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I don't believe we have, Thom.  I don't believe we have.  And as I understand it, there is traffic moving through those gates -- civilian traffic, not traffic designed for NATO, for the mission.

            MR. LITTLE:  Barbara.

            Q:  Egypt -- what is the secretary's reaction to seeing the violence perpetrated by the Egyptian military on the streets of Cairo? Has he spoken to his Egyptian counterparts or the chairman?  Is it permissible, in his mind, for this to continue?  Are you looking at cutting off any arms sales to Egypt to ensure they don't use U.S. equipment or gear?  What can you tell us?

            MR. LITTLE:  The secretary, as you know, visited Egypt in October and had very good discussions with Field Marshal Tantawi.  Since then there have been further developments in Egypt, and of course the secretary wishes that the level of violence would go to zero in Egypt. So when he sees violence break out, that's of concern.

            Of course, at the same time, he believes that the Egyptian military is committed to a process of transition whereby the wishes of the Egyptian people for a full democratic system are realized.  And that involves, of course, the elections that have been taking place, constitutional reforms and eventually the election of a new president.

            So he has confidence that the Egyptian military is working toward that.

            And that being said, when we see violence on the streets of Cairo or elsewhere in Egypt, that raises concerns.

            Q:  Well, to be clear, the violence of the last several days was very clearly, to some large extent, conducted by the Egyptian military.  So the question sort of remains, one, not in October, but more recently with this latest spate, has either Panetta or General Dempsey spoken to their Egyptian military or MOD counterparts?  Are you doing anything to cut any supply of U.S. equipment or gear that could be used?  Are you concerned about the violence perpetrated by the Egyptian military against civilians, and what they might be using to do that?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  To your question on the phone calls, I would have to check on General Dempsey.  I don't know.  I don't believe the secretary has made a call in recent days.  But as George said, he's deeply concerned by the violence, no matter who it's perpetrated by. It's simply unacceptable.

            You've seen the Egyptian military leaders come out and apologize for it.  That's an encouraging thing.  And we certainly hope that they will, you know, investigate this and deal with it appropriately. That's the secretary's expectation.  But as George said, the military is working very hard towards a transition to a civilian government, at the same time they are trying to secure their country.  I'm not making excuses for it -- not at all.  It's unacceptable behavior.

            Q:  Can I follow up on just one other thing?

            Can you tell us what the -- a different subject, on Iran -- what the secretary meant when he told CBS News that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within a year?  What is he precisely talking about?

            MR. LITTLE:  The secretary was very clear in his comments to CBS. He said that an Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.  That's a red line.  And he was asked about some specific timelines.  And he said that if the Iranians made a decision to move toward the development of a nuclear weapon, they could, in theory, have one in the relatively near future.

            But he was also very clear that that requires certain steps.  It would require them first to make a decision to move forward with the development of a nuclear weapon, and then, of course, that they would have to not only enrich uranium so that you get highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon; you'd have to -- and then you have to go through the weaponization process.  So he was not saying definitively that the Iranians would have a nuclear weapon in 2012.  If they did move out on that timeline, though, it's possible.

            Q:  Well, what he said, though, is -- right -- you're saying -- exactly, you're saying 2012, within the next year.  He says it could be within the next year if these conditions were met?  Is that his assessment?

            MR. LITTLE:  If they -- if they made a decision to move forward with enrichment and with weaponization, then that is possible.  He was very clear, though, that we don't know if that decision has been made inside the Iranian regime.  We certainly hope that they don't make that decision.

            Q:  And --

            MR. LITTLE:  So our best information, Barbara, is that we don't know whether or not the Iranians have made the decision to move ahead.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  We also think that if they make the decisions that George talked about, that we would be able to detect that, and we would have time to deal with it.

            MR. LITTLE:  And the secretary articulated that as well in that discussion.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  He did.  He did.  He did.

            MR. LITTLE:  Remember, we had the IAEA there, and we would, in all likelihood, have some signals that they were moving ahead.

            Q:  What signals would you have?  How would you --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  As the secretary said, one of the signals would be that they would -- they would probably move to kick the inspectors out.  Inspectors on the ground -- they have access right now.  And so again, we think that we would be able to know should they cross that threshold, and we would have time to deal with it.

            Q:  And when you say it's a red line -- so is the red line then when they kick the inspectors out because that is the signal that you're looking for?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  No, what the president has said and the secretary also has reiterated is the red line is a nuclear-armed Iran.  That's the red line.

            Q:  I'm sorry to keep -- (inaudible) -- if the redline is a nuclear-armed Iran, that means, if I'm understanding you correctly, they would be committed to get the nuclear arms.  You're saying a nuclear-armed Iran, not stop it before it becomes nuclear-armed.  But the red line is --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Iran with nuclear weapons -- that's a red line for the United States.  The president has said that.  The secretary of defense has made that very clear as well.

            But look, I want to -- you know, it's also important to understand that the -- we're on a sort of a dual track here, I mean, of diplomatic pressure from the international community and economic pressure applied through sanctions.  And you saw public comments by their oil minister just the other day that -- admitting that the sanctions have had an effect on their -- on their oil revenues.

            They are taking a bite.  And the secretary has been clear over and over and over again that he fully supports the -- that dual-track approach and that military options, while they have to be prepared and ready for the president -- that's our job to provide him options -- it should be the last option and that the secretary fully supports the approach that's being taken now.

            MR. LITTLE:  Tony.

            Q:  yes, on this, is it -- this year has the United States improved its capability to attack Iran's underground nuclear facilities if, in fact, it was called on to do it?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I'm not going to speak about our operational capabilities in that regard.

            Q:  I thought that you might be able to speak about the – more benign -- the strategic review.

            MR. LITTLE:  Yeah.

            Q:  Do you see that coming out in early January?

            MR. LITTLE:  I think, as I said -- have said earlier in similar forums, we do expect to articulate more about what the budget strategy is early next year in January.

            Q:  Speeches?  Or how is it going to --

            MR. LITTLE:  I don't have the exact contours lined up yet, but we do expect to go public with our thoughts on defense strategy in January.

            Q:  On Iraq, for the last week and a half, we've heard nothing but themes of sacrifice and success.  The elephant in the room is whether the invasion was justified or not.  Secretary Panetta's getting roasted in blog -- the blog world, for his comment that it was worth the price.  Do we take from that that Secretary Panetta now believes the invasion was justified?

            And John, you've been in this building a long time.  Are lots of military people pretty much saying thank God we're out there because this thing was a fiasco and not in our interest?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Want me to go first?

            MR. LITTLE:  I'll be -- I'll be happy to --

            Q:  Was it -- was it justified?

            MR. LITTLE:  I think the secretary's made clear, Tony; he has said that the start of the war was controversial inside the United   States.  He understands that.  He understands the debates that went on in the 2002-2003 timeframe.

            Roll the tape forward:  We are nearly nine years after that point, nine years of blood spilled, sacrifice and hard work.

            And the secretary believes that the men and women of the U.S. military have done an outstanding job and have made sacrifices -- in nearly 4,500 cases, the ultimate sacrifice.

            Q:  I understand that.

            MR. LITTLE:  And they have, at the end of the day, given Iraq the opportunity for a better future, to define for themselves what the way ahead is and to define what a sovereign, free and democratic Iraq should look like.  And that's what -- that's where his mind is right now.  And I think you heard some of that last week in his remarks at the end of mission ceremony.  That was a very historic occasion.

            And that's where he is right now.  He believes that at the end of the day, that opportunity is there for the people of Iraq.

            Q:  Is it worth the price, though?  The price was huge, and you know, that wasn't the reason we went in, to give them an opportunity. So I mean, I ask again:  He was opposed to it going in, as I recall. Have you heard him articulate --

            MR. LITTLE:  Many Americans -- many Americans questioned the rationale for going into the Iraq war.  He believes at the end of the day that the 4,500 service members who died and the many thousands more who were injured, their sacrifices were not -- I repeat, were not -- in vain.

            Q:  Has he --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  OK, here's the -- here's the thing about wars -- and you don't have to be much of a historian to figure this out -- but they change.  They often change over time.

            Q:  (Off mic) -- or the war?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  The objectives --

            Q:  (Off mic.)

            CAPT. KIRBY:  -- the missions, the goals, the strategies.  It's not unusual or atypical for them to change in their very nature.  And the Iraq war did change over time.  It was a large-scale conventional invasion at the beginning and then became a full-out counterinsurgency.  You guys know that.  You've covered it.  You know it better than I do.   They do change over time.  And over time, this war did become about giving Iraq an opportunity -- an opportunity that they didn't have before, and now they have it. And as George said, it's their ring to grasp.

            Now, back to your other question to me, I -- you were accurate. I've been in the building a long time.  I did not serve in Iraq, and so I will not pretend to speak for the hundreds of thousands of men and women or families that have been affected by that war.

            What I will tell you is this.  When you strap on this uniform, you do what you're told.  You follow the orders you're given.  You do your duty.  And regardless of how any of our troops -- and I'm not -- and some of them may be very glad this is over, some of them may not be.  Again, I won't speak for that.  But I can tell you that each and every one of them can and should be proud of the fact that they did their duty.  And they can -- they can move forward with their lives in the consciousness  that they did their duties very, very well.

            Q:  (Off mic) -- since we're doing multiple questions today, the point Tony is making is really a very interesting one.  The sacrifice of the men and women who served, and served magnificently, there's almost a sense that to criticize the war, now that it's over, is in some ways to undermine or challenge their sacrifice.  Not at all.  The nation owes them their -- our respect.  We get that.

            But the chairman, Admiral Mullen, John, under whom you served, often said:  We're not safe if we're broke.  Part of the budget problem we're having today is the cost of the war.  So we can, you know, all agree the sacrifice of the service member is something we all should respect.  But is our financial insecurity now -- should that be put on the scale of what we did to liberate the Iraqi people?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Well, there's a lot -- you know, our financial situation in the country, yes, has certainly been affected by 10 years of war.  There's no question about that, Tom.  But it's not the only impact.  It's not the reason why the economy's struggling.  I mean, so I think, it's a fair point that you make.

            Again, speaking for those of us in uniform -- and again, I'm not speaking as a vet of the wars, because I didn't serve there; it wouldn't be right -- but speaking as somebody in uniform, I can tell you it's -- the decision to go to war and all that that entails -- the risks, the costs, the dangers, the sacrifices that you know are going to be made -- those decisions are made by the civilian leadership.  We execute those decisions.  And it would be wrong -- it would be inappropriate for us to be -- again, the military, to be over- concerned with the financial costs or the impact to the economy of the United States as we execute those orders.

            We don't determine when or where we fight, but we do get to determine how we fight and to give the advice to our civilian leaders in that regard.

            MR. LITTLE:  We have time for maybe a couple more questions.

            Q:  On Japan's selection to F-35, Japan's scheduled to have it deployed by 2016, but that is two years ahead of schedule, the expected U.S. Air Force – IOC of 2018.  What kind of message does this send to people inside the U.S. and also to overseas, that Japan's going to have this before the U.S., if that all goes on schedule?

            MR. LITTLE:  I don't personally know the particulars of the schedule, but we certainly welcome the decision of the government of Japan to enter the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.  Japan is an unwavering ally of the United States, and we have an unwavering commitment to Japan.  And this latest announcement by the Japanese government is a further indication of the strength of our relationship with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and expresses confidence in the American industrial base.  So we welcome the decision wholeheartedly.

            John, and then Louie.

            Q:  Has anyone from DOD been in touch with their Chinese counterparts regarding the situation in North Korea?

            And also, in the last couple of days have you seen any new or unusual activity by the North Korean military?

            MR. LITTLE:  The answer to your second question is no, we have not seen any unusual movements by the North Korean military.  This appears to be a relatively smooth transition on the peninsula, and we hope it stays that way.  There has been no increase in force protection levels for U.S. forces in Korea.  And General Thurman and other American officials in the Republic of Korea are in constant contact with their South Korean counterparts.  And they're doing an amazing job.  The secretary has full confidence in what they're doing.

            In terms of the first part of your question, I'll --

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any discussions with the -- with our contacts in China thus far, no.

            Q:  Would you like to have contacts with the Chinese military regarding the situation in North Korea?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  We would like to have contacts with the Chinese military across a wide range of issues.  I mean, this is a country that we want to have a much stronger relationship with from a military perspective.

            At this point I'm not sure that there's a need specifically -- as George said, things are calm there across the DMZ right now.  And that's the way we'd like to see it.  So I'm not certain that there is necessarily an imperative here to reach out to the Chinese with respect to what's going on in North Korea.

            Q:  Can I just ask a clarification, George?  You said the transition is relatively smooth.  One, how does the United States actually know that, since the information is almost nonexistent other than what official North Korean channels say?  And does that mean that you do believe that Kim Jong Un is solely in power now, or do you lend any credence to the report that other members are also taking power? What leads you to say the transition is smooth?

            MR. LITTLE:  Well, we have no, you know, information to the contrary, Barbara.  I mean, we have not seen any unusual North Korean troop movements since the death of Kim Jong Il.  That would be one indicator of a less-than-smooth transition.  And I'm talking now about the security situation.

            And in terms of succession, I'm really not going to get into the particulars of succession.  Kim Jong Un for sometime has been identified as someone who would probably take over.  I think North Korean media has suggested that he will take over for Kim Jong Il.  As to who else might be in power alongside Kim Jong Un, I'm simply not going to speculate.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  There's an opportunity here for the North Korean regime, whoever heads it, to -- it's an opportunity to join the family of nations and to stop the isolation that they have suffered their people through, and we certainly hope they'll take that.

            MR. LITTLE:  Louie (ph).

            Q:  I have a couple of questions about the U.S. presence in Kuwait.  Has an agreement been reached with Kuwait to maintain an additional combat brigade as had been reported earlier this year?  I think a senior defense official on the way to Iraq mentioned that there are 3(,000) to 4,000 troops that are going to be maintaining themselves inside Kuwait for a couple of months.  How long will they actually be there for, and if there is an agreement with Kuwait for a permanent long-term presence?

            And third part of this question:  Secretary Panetta has spoken about the 40,000 troops in the Gulf region that are going to be maintained there that the U.S. is going to be maintaining a presence.  But I believe there was mention out of the White House maybe last week or two weeks ago that the U.S. was going back to a pre-Gulf War presence, which would be significantly lower than the numbers that he detailed.

            So which of those two are we supposed to believe?

            MR. LITTLE:  You can go ahead.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I can -- yeah, I'll take the first part of that. We, the -- we are still working through what of -- the post-Iraq regional presence is going to be -- what's it going to look like, where is it going to be, how many, what they're going to be doing.  So there's been no final decisions made about where any residual forces may stay or for how long they will stay.

            We're grateful for the support that we have received from Kuwait for a long time, not just -- not just even in the last 10 years, but certainly through these 10 years of war, Kuwait has been a steadfast partner, and we appreciate that.  But I wouldn't get into any kind of pre-decisional discussions we're having with any of our partners there.

            MR. LITTLE:  And in terms of the numbers, I mean, the secretary has been clear that we are going to maintain a presence in the Middle East.

            You know, the numbers in terms of deployments fluctuate, depending on the requirements at any given point in time.  So I'm not sure that I am in a position today to parse 40,000 versus a different number.  But the secretary is insistent that we have a presence in the Middle East that's going to protect our interests and those of our allies in the region.

            Q:  And there is a discussion under way that could result in a lowering of that number?

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm not going to get into any particular discussions on troop levels in the Middle East or elsewhere.  The key point, Luis, is that we are going to maintain a strong presence in the Middle East. I don't have a particular figure to give you today, but that is going to remain a focus of the United States military.

            STAFF:  On that, I think we ought to go.

            MR. LITTLE:  Happy New Year.

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.

            MR. LITTLE:  Happy holidays.

            Q:  Thank you.